Homeworks academic service


The family changing in contemporary british society

It argues that social change can be understood, culturally, as involving a process of de-institutionalisation and, structurally, as involving differentiation within elementary family groups as well as within extended family networks. Family change is set in the context of changes in the housing and labour markets and the demographic, industrial and occupational changes of the past 40 years.

These changes are associated with increases in women's economic activity rates and a decrease in their 'degree of domesticity'. They are also associated with increasing differentiation within families such that the family changing in contemporary british society heterogeneity is now found at the heart of the elementary family as well as within kinship groupings as was the case 40 years ago. Thus the trend towards increased differentiation identified in the original study Rosser and Harris: The Family and Social Change has continued into the 21st century.

This is associated with a de-institutionalisation of family life and an increasing need for partners to negotiate participation in both productive and reproductive work. This was evidenced by high rates of contact between members of households of different generations in spite of the increased geographical dispersion of the members of such networks.

Such parent-adult child relations form the key links of an extended kin network comprising those kin who in other times and societies would have tended to form a residential group or 'extended family'. The preliminary results of our re-study of the family and social change in Swansea Charles, Davies and Harris 2003 also demonstrated the remarkable resilience of extended family groupings.

This may have been a surprise to any sociologists who had unthinkingly assumed that the decline in the proportion of households formed by nuclear families indicated a decline in the importance of the nuclear family in a more general sense.

Be that as it may, our findings were certainly not news to those familiar with the empirical evidence on this issue. Our argument is that during this period social change can be understood, culturally, as involving a process of de-institutionalisation and, structurally, as involving differentiation within elementary family groups as well as within extended family networks.

In the first part of the paper we attempt to specify the degree and character of social change, with brief reference to Swansea's labour and housing markets. We then describe the demographic, industrial and occupational changes that have taken place in Swansea, and their consequences.

In so doing we draw out the relation of these changes to changes in women's domesticity and economic activity. Finally we discuss the increasing heterogeneity of the kin universes of individuals and, particularly, the differentiation that can now be found within the elementary family, specifically within couples.

The two studies 2. It consists of a 1000-household survey of individuals selected randomly from the electoral register and interviewed between May and September 2002. It also involves 3 ethnographic studies of different areas of Swansea. In this it followed its predecessor whose conclusions it was designed to test. Its predecessor was Michael Young and Peter Willmott's now classic study of Bethnal Green entitled Family and Kinship in East London 1957 which generations of readers have interpreted as being 'about' the 'mum', i.

Michael Young is reported to have described the study as being about 'planning'. These two interpretations are in no way inconsistent.

Young and Willmott showed the way in which related working class family households in the East End were dependent on each other for their survival and were fearful of the failure of 'planners' to understand the social implications of the revolutionising of the built environment, namely the disruption of family support networks.

Today the docks, never mind the bureaucracy which administered them, have gone and a whole range of factors, geographical, political and economic has, through the transformation of the built environment, greatly altered the relation of 'the Bethnal Green family' to the supply of housing.

Today we should say that, in both Swansea and Bethnal Green, 'the local family' is what it is in and through its relation to the local housing market and the local labour market.

Young and Willmott were concerned primarily with one specific change: The Swansea study in contrast was centrally concerned with more general social change: The way the authors of the original Swansea study summed up these changes was by employing the contrast between a 'stable' and a relatively homogeneous society and a 'mobile' and on virtually all dimensions heterogeneous one. The family was in effect a microcosm of society in so far as the cultural, occupational, linguistic and geographical mobility of younger generations within the family meant that the social solidarity of the three generational kin group had been seriously weakened.

What flowed along these links was the exchange of the family changing in contemporary british society services the family changing in contemporary british society this was possible because of the high degree of what Rosser and Harris called the 'domestication of women'. The level of female domestication was for these authors a critical variable in understanding differences in family structure and behaviour. The critical factor in both the nature of the marital relationship and in the internal organisation of the elementary family and also in the 'connectedness' of the external kinship networks is the degree of domesticity of the women involved.

The trend of familial change is away from the former compulsive domesticity of women and thus away from 'segregated' marital relationships and 'close-knit' networks in the direction of 'joint' marital roles and 'loose-knit' networks.

Social Change and the Family

As the burden of domestic labour was eased so the need of households for support from other households diminished. At the same time it became possible for married women to combine part time employment with their domestic activities. In 1960 the supply of domestic services by women both in and between households was not yet seriously impeded by female employment.

Young women went out to work before they got married and older women were increasingly going out to work after their children had left school, but frequently only part time Rosser and Harris, 1965pp. They did not however recognise that the decreasing domestication of women was an effect as well as a cause of the increasing entry of women into paid employment and that the transformation of the labour market was to play a similar role in the transformation of family life in the second part of the twentieth century to that played by demography in the first.

In what follows we attempt to specify these transformations and their impact on differentiation within families and kinship networks, arguing that a major change is the increasing and now high levels of occupational heterogeneity within elementary families. There are obviously problems of comparison, but the difficulties with which we are concerned in this paper are those of characterising the nature of these wider social changes which have taken place in Swansea as elsewhere as they affect family relationships and behaviour.

These wider social changes are, we believe, of a different order from those, enormous though they were, which took place from 1900 to 1960.

The manual the family changing in contemporary british society divide was absolutely fundamental and virtually defined what being 'middle class' or 'working class' meant. This division was expressed in dress so that class membership was instantly recognisable and interaction in public places was segregated according to these visible signs of class membership. In this sense, though the proportions had changed and wage differentials had changed see Atkinson 2000 in Halsey and Webb 20001900 and 1960 societies were societies that shared a major social division based on this distinction.

This is no longer the case. This is also no longer true. These two changes are related. It does not follow that hierarchical differentiation is any less important in explaining people's social behaviour or any less important an element of social structure. But at the structural level the locations of hierarchical distinctions have changed, as has the size of the groups that are demarcated by them, and at the level of social action and consciousness class distinctions are no longer signified by institutionalised differences in speech and behaviour in the way that that they were in 1960.

Between 1900 and 1960 a multitude of small metal manufacturing plants in Swansea and its nearby valleys had been replaced by the building of three large-scale modern plants outside Swansea County Borough. The largest, situated nine miles east of Swansea, became the work place of most of Swansea's steel workers many of whom, at the turn of the century, had walked to work.

Modern manufacturing methods had massively reduced the burden of manual labour from its 1900 levels and resulted in improved working conditions and high levels of wages. However manufacturing processes in 1960 were, by today's standards, still relatively labour intensive.

  1. Since women are over-represented among 'other non-manual occupations' this shift in procedure naturally exaggerated the extent to which the occupational distribution of the sample has changed from a pyramid to an oval in the years between 1960 and 2002. Whatever their merits they fail as means for apprehending the ways in which day-to-day life has changed and leave the sociologist struggling like Rosser and Harris's prime informant who was reduced to saying 'There's a different atmosphere now altogether!
  2. The corresponding figures for Britain are. Both have to be understood with reference to both demand and supply factors.
  3. In contemporary culture this distinction is blurred and household and extra-household settings become equally contexts in which persons may pursue their individual ends with little reference to the responses of others. They are also associated with increasing differentiation within families such that occupational heterogeneity is now found at the heart of the elementary family as well as within kinship groupings as was the case 40 years ago.

Between1960 and 2002 this has ceased to be the case Harris et al. In 1961 manufacturing accounted for a quarter of Swansea's work force Census 1961 ; today it constitutes little over a tenth ONS, 2002. The corresponding figures for Britain are: In 1960 as the family changing in contemporary british society 1900 it was still true that the majority of the working population was 'traditional working class' in as much as it was male, manual and worked in the industrial sector of the economy.

Swansea's economy is now post-industrial in terms of employment. This improvement combined with rising wages made it possible for working class people to pay rents for decent council accommodation. As a result the occupants of council estates were spread over a wide range of strata within the working class.

Nonetheless, in spite of these major differences, you would, if you were working class in the Swansea of both 1920 and 1960, almost certainly have rented your living accommodation. In 1960, as in 1900, there was still a shortage of affordable working class housing of a quality acceptable by the standards of the day, though the shortage had greatly diminished and the standards greatly improved Rosser and Harris, 1965: Most of those on the housing list were people who were not in urgent need of housing in the 1960s sense but people who wanted or needed to transfer to other locations, usually so that they could live nearer to relatives Swansea Housing Department: In the present, the factor most likely to cause families to double up is the inability of couples to find the deposit on a starter home due to the recent boom in housing prices that affected Swansea in 2003-4.

Is the Family Changing In Contemporary British Society?

According to the Halifax Building Society, in the twelve months ending September 2003, Swansea experienced the fourth largest price rise of any city in the UK. The exceptional recent rise in house prices is partly due to the development of Swansea into a resort, associated with the past development of derelict docks as a marina, and the development of another set of docks with stunning views of Swansea Bay as an area of up-market housing which is attracting up-market in-migration and increasing the value of surrounding properties.

Theorising social change 3. Such attempts often involve grand categories which are used to classify whole societies e.

  • We then describe the demographic, industrial and occupational changes that have taken place in Swansea, and their consequences;
  • The statistical material we present in this paper concerning Swansea's industrial, occupational and class structure should be useful both for comparative purposes and to enable readers to contextualise the family data presented and our arguments concerning them;
  • Finally we discuss the increasing heterogeneity of the kin universes of individuals and, particularly, the differentiation that can now be found within the elementary family, specifically within couples;
  • The proportion with parents living within Swansea fell between the two surveys from just over 70 per cent to just over 60 per cent;
  • Their distribution is therefore 'oval' as is the distribution of the whole work force when the distributions of the two sexes are added together;
  • The Swansea study in contrast was centrally concerned with more general social change:

Whatever their merits they fail as means for apprehending the ways in which day-to-day life has changed and leave the sociologist struggling like Rosser and Harris's prime informant who was reduced to saying 'There's a different atmosphere now altogether! There's as much difference in 'atmosphere' between 1960 and 2002 as that reported between 1960 and 1910.

In what follows we attempt to begin to capture that change in 'atmosphere'. This is exemplified by the common practice in the 1950s and 1960s of women donning hat and gloves as a sign of respectability when venturing into the public realm and is captured in the illustrations from reading schemes of the time.

In contemporary culture this distinction is blurred and household and extra-household settings become equally contexts in which persons may pursue their individual ends with little reference to the responses of others.

In the public domain there is not any necessarily recognised collectivity whose members have a shared consciousness comprising normative standards in terms of which public behaviour can be judged, neither is there any set of social categories to which specific normative expectations can apply.

That is to say that the individual's identity is not ascribed by the collectivity, nor even chosen by the individual from a set of alternatives provided by the collectivity, but negotiated by the individual through a process of social interaction facilitated by the visible signs and markers constituted by their possessions.

There are now few the family changing in contemporary british society social identities that are stable and no master identities whose significance is so diffuse that they rival the past identities of occupation, class and culture.

As a result, the idea of duty to any collectivity has evaporated and individual rights come to appear as the property of individuals, rights that exist independently of any social context.

  1. Demographic, industrial and occupational change 4.
  2. The departure of people with loose family connections would have left a population with strong family ties.
  3. Similarly Beck Beck, 1992. Finally we discuss the increasing heterogeneity of the kin universes of individuals and, particularly, the differentiation that can now be found within the elementary family, specifically within couples.

A corollary of the movement away from collectivism to individualism is that cooperation between individuals is increasingly achieved by means of exchange, rather than by the rules of organisations or the issuing of commands, so that people are more frequently linked by participation in markets than by relationships in or through institutions. This, as we shall see, has implications for differentiation within family and kinship networks. It is to claim that it has been subject to a process of de-institutionalisation, and is therefore increasingly societally unregulated.

The notion of de-institutionalisation is closely related to the Durkheimian notion of 'de-regulation' and Norbert Elias's notion of 'informalisation' see Elias 1996: Elias's the family changing in contemporary british society involves a movement between two different types of constraint on behaviour, namely from external, social restraints to internal, individual constraints.

Elias is anxious to insist that this shift is a new phase in the 'civilising process', not its reverse. Elias would not want to claim therefore that de-institutionalisation as a result of de-regulation and informalisation involves the end of civilisation.

However, de-institutionalisation has had the result that the new member of society no longer looks to the past for guidance, not merely because the speed of change means that the old rules about how things should be done no longer apply, but because, outside its bureaucracies, our society increasingly lacks rules about how things are to be done.

As a result, instead of the past being privileged over the present, as in the traditional society of 1960's Swansea, the present is privileged over the past. There is a long sociological tradition, of which Parsons for discussion see Harris, 1983: Similarly Beck Beck, 1992: It is possible to look to the family either as a bastion against egoistic individualism and total anomie or as a reactionary institution, the site of the final struggle between 'then' and 'now' resulting in its own destruction.

Anyone who is familiar with the 1965 book and who reads the report of the preliminary results of the 2002 survey Charles et al. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the most striking changes concern the increasing number of people who have not yet, many of whom who will never, found residential groups comprising parents and children.

There have been major changes in the pattern of family formation and family dissolution and re-formation but once formed or re-formed family life seems to follow the same sequences and maintain the same relationships with extra-familial kin in 2002 as in 1960.

While there are many minor differences there is no major change. The reason for this is suggested in a recent paper Ribbens McCarthy et al, 2000. The arrival of children provides the basis for overcoming the alienation between the new parents and their own parents and between adult siblings. The cultural transformations of the last fifty years cannot of themselves alter these facts of life.